Pricing. Is there any word that confers some whisper of dark arts than pricing? Or any question that instills less confidence than, “How did you derive your pricing strategy?” Many times, startups replicate and tune competitors’ pricing strategies. If everyone else prices per seat, then so should we…
Is this the right thought process?
Madhavan Ramanujam is a pricing expert. A partner at Simon-Kucher partners, the pre-eminent pricing consultancy, he argues in Monetizing Innovation that there are only three pricing strategies startups should pursue: Maximization, Penetration and Skimming. They prioritize revenue growth, market share and profit maximization differently.
Maximization (Revenue Growth) – maximize revenue growth in the short term. Startups should pursue maximization when there are no clear differences in customer segments’ willingness to pay, and when the optimal short term and long term prices are equal. Many mid-market software companies price with the goal of revenue maximization, negotiating for the highest possible price in each sale.
Penetration (Market Share) – price the product at a low price to win dominant market share. A bottoms-up strategy lends itself to penetration pricing. Price low to minimize adoption friction, grow quickly, and then move up-market after developing broad adoption. Penetration pricing leads to land-and-expand sales tactics. Expensify, Netsuite, New Relic, Slack follow this model. Penetration prioritizes market share.
Skimming (Profit Maximization) – start with a high price and systematically broaden the product offering to address more of the customer base at lower prices. Skimming is widespread in consumer hardware. Apple sells the latest iPhones at the highest prices, and repackages older models at lower prices to address different customer segments. As Madhavan tells it, Steve Jobs was both a product genius and pricing genius. By pairing the two skills, he led Apple to record-breaking profits quarter after quarter.
Skimming is less common in the software world because few startups develop a product at launch that will be accepted by the most sophisticated customers (and those willing to pay prices that generate the greatest margin). There are exceptions: Oracle’s database, Tanium’s security product, Workday’s human capital management software.
Startup’s pricing strategies should be explicit. They should decide which strategy to pursue, and align sales, marketing, product and engineering efforts along those lines. Madhavan recommends polling your executive team to prioritize revenue growth, volume growth, profit generation, and market share to ensure the company’s pricing strategy is consistent with the goals of the team.